Role Play In Class

Role-Play Is Vital To The Learning Experience.

Role-Play Introduction:

Including role-play into the classroom activities adds diversity, a change of pace and occasions for a lot of language production. It can be an essential part of the class and used for a wide variety of learning procedures.

Simply put; Role-play is any speaking activity when a student either put themselves into somebody else’s shoes, or when they stay in their own shoes but put themselves into a make-believe situation.[1]

With role-play students can ‘become’ anyone they like A film star, a pop star, a sports star or some such celebrity they care to be, the choice is entirely their own. Role-play can also be used by splitting the class into two and creating ‘for’ and ‘against’ teams and given a statement, non-political (preferably humorous) and as harmless as possible, which they have to support or refute.

Some Sample Statements Are:

  1. Coffee should be banned.
  2. Smoking in public bars and cafes should be allowed.
  3. Couples holding hands in public should be banned.
  4. People under 50 should not be served alcohol.
  5. Women would make great Builders.
  6. Police should all dress in pink Kilts to stand out more.
  7. Learning ‘English’ is very easy.
  8. Babies should not be allowed in public places.
  9. Watching Television is a waste of time.
  10. Men should wear dresses if they want.

In a one-to-one situation Students can take on the opinions of someone else. The purpose here is to create a realistic situation or environment where the student is forced to use English to negotiate a target solution to a given problem.

Harmer On Role-Play.

Jeremy Harmer advocates the use of role-play for the following reasons:

  1. It’s fun and motivating.
  2. Quieter students get the chance to express themselves in a more forthright way.
  3. The world of the classroom is broadened to include the outside world – thus offering a much wider range of language opportunities[2]


 In addition students are placed into English-speaking situations and are given a chance to prepare their English in a safe environment. Real situations can be created and students can benefit from the practice. Mistakes can be made with no harsh consequences.

The Teacher (During Role-play) Becomes:

  1. Facilitator – students may need new language to be ‘fed’ in by the teacher. If rehearsal time is appropriate the feeding in of new language should take place at this stage.
  2. Spectator – The teacher watches the role-play and offers comments and advice at the end.
  3. Participant – It is sometimes appropriate for the teacher to get involved and take part in the role-play.[3]

Rules Of Role-Play Scenarios:

  1. Regalia and props can really bring a role-play to life; For example, using props such as trays with cups (for a coffee shop ordering situation) can be useful because they allow greater material for discussion.
  2. Rearranging the furniture can also help: In a coffee shop scenario tables can be moved to create an environment similar to that of a coffee shop. Counters, tables and, if possible, cups and saucers etc.
  3. Keep it real and relevant: it is necessary to ensure that all given scenarios are realistic and possible situations students could find themselves in if they travel to English speaking countries. There is no point in a student pretending to be, for example a ‘Brain Surgeon’ because the language necessary is not relevant. It is best to have students look for directions, order food or explain an illness or pain to a listening Doctor. Such situations can and do happen on a regular basis and as such are more appropriate for students to learn.

Further Points To Consider:

It is also a good idea to record role-plays, if possible, and allow the students to listen to themselves communicating. They can learn how and where they went wrong in the process.

Fellow students should be instructed to make notes as the role-play proceeds and document newly learned language (phrases or words) during the role-play.

The teacher should ensure to ‘correct’ in a friendly and informative way and not create embarrassment for the student. It may be best for the teacher to make notes as the role-play progresses and then, at the end of the session, discuss rather than correct errors.

Sample Role-Play Scenario:

The following role-play is a customisation of a game outlined by BBC (British Council For Teaching English)[4]:

Visiting A Restaurant In Ireland.


  1. Make “menus” for a restaurant and choose foods, that are not familiar to students and not in their native language.
  2. Make some fake money to make the situation more realistic and demanding of greater interaction between students.
  3. Separate students into groups of 3 or 4 and have them sit around one table per set as if they were eating together in a real restaurant. Pass out the menus and have students look them over.
  4. The teacher becomes the server and goes around each table and takes the students’ food and drink orders. Each student should be allowed to ask a set amount of questions about the items on the menu.

Sample questions are:

  1. a.   Is it spicy?
  2. b.   Does it have Onions?
  3. c.    How much is it?
  4. d.   Is the coffee (wine) part of the meal?
  5. e.    Is tipping allowed?
  1. It is also a good idea to have the person pay for the meal using the fake money. The use of Monopoly money is perfectly acceptable as it is a currency most students will be familiar with but not too sure how to use.

Alternative Role Play Game Strategy (Scenario):

It is also interesting to have one group of 4 or 5 students come to the front of the class at a pre-constructed counter (from classroom desks) to ask the teacher (now Waiter or Barman) any questions they may have about ordering a meal or drinks. In this scenario it is helpful if one of the students should be a spokesperson for the others, who may speak their native language (if possible) and have the spokesperson translate it in English with the assistance of other members of the group.

Note: When choosing who should come out to the front of the class we need to be careful not to choose the shyest students first, and we need to work to create the right kind of supportive atmosphere in the class.

Materials Required.

Given the scenario of this ‘Restaurant’ example of role-play it is necessary to make some adjustments to the lay out of the class using existing furniture. One should create tables for diners, a counter for restaurant ‘staff’ and a number of menus (one for each table). Any other props that are available and can be used will assist in creating new language situations for the students.

Role-Play Advantages.

There is no question that role playing can provide powerful and significant learning opportunities. These advantages are as follows:

1.    Creates greater involvement in the learning process.

2.    Teacher can observe and identify ‘problem’ areas.

3.    Provides opportunity for practise without consequence.

4.    Class can be segmented and students learn from each other.

5.    Students can be encouraged to take an opposite standpoint to                      their own point of view in order to enhance the learning                                        experience.

Other Sample Role-Play Scenarios:

  1. Student in a Taxi looking to go to Dublin City Centre.
  2. Student with no passport trying to buy alcohol.
  3. Student lost in City and wants to find hotel.
  4. Student feels ill and wants to find Doctor.
  5. Student wants to know Train/Bus Times at a Depot.
  6. Student wants to find an Internet Café.
  7. Student has lost his/her passport at Hotel.
  8. Student wants a cheap room in a B&B.
  9. Student wants to find a good Bar or Nightclub.
  10. Student wants to exchange currency at a Bank.

Sample Questions For ‘Restaurant’ Scenario:


1.   Can I see your menu?

2.   How much for a sandwich and coffee?

3.   I do not want Onions in that.

4.   Can you recommend a good wine?

5.   Is there a discount for groups of four or more?

6.   Is the cheese/meat local?

7.   Is the Chef Irish?

8.   Can we take some away if we don’t finish it here?

9.   Do you have any (condiments) Garlic or Herbs?

10. What is the tipping policy in this restaurant?



There is a popular belief that learning should be solemn in nature and if one is having fun then it is not learning. This is a misconception. It is possible to learn a language and enjoy oneself at the same time. One of the best ways of doing this is through games and role-play.

It is vital that the teacher be creative when producing games. Daring to deviate occasionally from routine and do something refreshing in the class is very important in the learning process. It requires little effort, and the rewards are plenty and the enthusiasm generated is dynamic. Finally well conducted role-playing and games show that the teacher is totally committed and enthusiastic.

[1] BBC (Accessed 02.04.2012 Gerard J. Hannan)

[2] The Practice of English Language Teaching – Jeremy Harmer (Longman 1989)

[3]  Role Play – Gillian Porte Ladousse (Oxford 1987)

[4] Sourced At:

(Accessed On 03.04.2012 Gerard J. Hannan)


About Gerard Hannan

Media Student at MIC/UL in Limerick, Ireland. Worked as a Broadcaster/Journalist in Limerick for over 25 Years and has also published four local interest books.

Posted on April 9, 2012, in Teaching and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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